What is the best season to go hiking in New Zealand?
If we're talking about the weather, summer (December to February) is generally considered to be prime time for hiking in New Zealand as the weather is warm and dry, and the days are long which is great for maximising your time on the trails. However, it's difficult to say what is the ‘best’ time of year to plan your trip. Firstly, New Zealand is gorgeous all year round, and secondly, it really depends on the scenery you’d like to see (would you rather blooming wildflowers or snow-topped peaks?), and the trails you want to do. Some trails are closed during winter due to poor conditions, while others are open all year round. You also need to factor in whether you’d prefer to plan your trip outside of the peak season when the trails are quieter and accommodation and tourist activities tend to be a bit cheaper.
Before we get stuck into each season, it’s worth noting that the climate in New Zealand varies a fair bit, ranging from temperate in the south and subtropical in the north, to alpine in the mountainous regions. There are four distinct seasons in both the North and South Islands, but daily weather conditions can change quickly and you’ll likely hear locals joking about there being four seasons in a day. The North Island tends to be a few degrees warmer with slightly higher humidity throughout the year.
Hiking in New Zealand in spring (September to November)
- Best for: wildflowers, mild temperatures, waterfalls, longer daylight hours
Overall, spring is one of the best seasons to go hiking in New Zealand. The weather is pleasant (it’s not too hot or cold), there’s plenty of sunshine and life is blooming all around – think cute baby lambs and calves frolicking in the paddocks and wildflowers adding bright splashes of colour to the walking trails. That said, the weather can turn quickly in spring with frequent showers or downpours, so don’t forget your waterproof jacket. The mornings and evenings can also feel quite crisp, so you’ll need a warm fleece and a beanie to pop on for early starts or drinks around the fire. Another great thing about hiking in spring is the waterfalls – all the snowmelt and frequent showers make New Zealand's tumbling cascades even more impressive.
Hiking in New Zealand in summer (December to February)
- Best for: long daylight hours, warm weather, all trails open
You're pretty much guaranteed stable weather in summer with warm, sunny and fairly dry conditions. The days are long with daylight until 9 pm in December, which means you can explore well into the evening and there's no rush to get back. Average highs in summer range from 20-30ºC (68-86ºF) depending on where you are, and rainfall is at its lowest which means the ground is nice and dry.
Summer is considered to be the peak season for tourists and locals alike – many Kiwis load up the car and go on camping trips during the festive break – so if you’re planning a summer trip that’s not part of an organised tour, it’s best to plan ahead as accommodation and popular activities often get booked out months in advance. If you don't mind the Christmas rush (though compared to other countries, it's still fairly chilled), it's a great time of year to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, meet friendly locals, and spend balmy summer evenings enjoying a post-hike wine or barbeque on the beach.
Hiking in New Zealand in autumn (March to May)
- Best for: autumn foliage, mild weather, smaller crowds
Autumn is easily one of the most picturesque seasons to go hiking with vibrant autumn foliage making the landscapes look even more enchanting. The weather is relatively mild and steady with clear skies and lots of sunshine, and while the nights aren't too chilly, the evenings and mornings start to feel crisp as the season progresses so you'll need a warm fleece for those early morning starts. The days start to wind down earlier in April when the clocks go back, so you may need to plan your hikes more thoroughly to ensure you're back before dusk. With the Christmas period and summer holidays well and truly over, autumn is the perfect time to hit up some of the most popular trails like Roy's Peak Track and the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Things really start to cool down in May with the first sprinkling of snow in the mountainous regions and the occasional frost on lower grounds in the South Island, so it's best to visit in March and April if you're looking for proper autumnal vibes.
Hiking in New Zealand in winter (June to August)
- Pros: magical winter scenery, winter sports
New Zealand's landscapes are stunning, but the wow factor turns up a notch when the peaks are dusted with snow – especially on a crisp winter's day when the sky is clear. Daytime highs on the North Island usually linger between a mild 10-16°C (50 - 60.8ºF), but it's chillier on the South Island with more frost, snow and cooler temperatures that average 7-12 °C (44.6 - 53.6ºF). Winter is considered to be the low season in New Zealand – unless you're doing winter sports – so you may struggle to book an organised hiking trip. That doesn't mean hiking is off the cards, but you might be limited in the trails you can do and you'll need to ensure you're rugged up and have the right gear, and always check the weather forecast before you set off.
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